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It is election season in Ethiopia with voters scheduled to go to the polls on May 24, 2015 for the fifth national election since the current government took power. According to figures, a total of 6,000 parliamentary candidates have been fielded by 58 political parties across the country.
Nearly 35 million Ethiopians have registered to cast their votes and the result of the election is set to be announced on June 22, 2015. Capital will be following the election process through different consecutive interviews it will be carrying out with different political parties keeping you updated on the election that has seen the biggest voter participation yet

The All Ethiopian Unity Organization (AEUO), one of the contestants for the 2015 national elections, was derived from the popular political party during the 2005 national election, Coalition for Unity and Democracy. AEUO has presented 350 candidates for the 5th round national election. Abebaw Mehari, President of AEUO recently replaced the long serving ex-president Eng. Hailu Shawul.  Abebaw has a Masters degree in Economics and Finance from the University of Edinburgh. He sat down with Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet to discuss AEUO’s campaign, challenges faced as well as what the party would bring to the table if it is to win the election. Excerpts: .

Capital: How many candidates did your party fielded for parliament and regional council?
Abebaw Mehari:
Before I answer that, I would like to start by speaking about the big concern of our party.  Most of the contesting parties were given 50 days to have their candidates registered by the Electoral Board.  AEUO was going through internal dispute at that time and was not able to send the candidates, list in time. After we settled the issue, the Electoral Board gave us only five days to announce our candidates. Although the time was too short, we sent a list of 350 parliamentary candidates. NEBE only approved 66 candidates. 
After a prolonged argument, the Electoral Board raised the number of AEUO candidates to 183. The decision knocked out 167 of our candidates from the contest. The same happened to our candidates who were going to compete for regional council seats. Out of the 300 candidates we presented, only 120 were approved by NEBE.
Capital: How is the campaign going?
Our campaign is surrounded by many problems. For example, the 400,000 birr support we got from NEBE is not enough. Besides that, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporate (EBC) repeatedly censured the messages we prepared for televised public debate, although the constitution prohibits censorship of any type.  
We are doing our best to manage with the finance we have gotten from our members and the diaspora community who believe that our party has an ambition and is a good option to awaken Ethiopia from its deep slumber.
We are hanging our posters in many places, we have been organizing public meetings in different places, and we are trying to reach the public through the radio, internet, newspaper and magazine.
Capital: What are the big challenges in AEUO’s preparation for the election?
Our candidates and their families, especially those who live in rural areas, have been suffering from continuous abuse by Wereda officials, they were jailed, tortured and threatened. The officials have warned some of our candidates to withdraw from the election and sometimes it even got to the point where they broke into our offices or closing them down. Our members are gripped with fear and that gives advantage to the EPRDF over the opposition political parties in the preparation.
Capital: What kind of political ideology AEUO follows?
My party follows a liberal democracy ideology. Liberal democracy is a form of representative democracy in which elected representatives’ power is limited by the constitution that emphasizes the protection of individual liberties, equality, and the rights of minority groups.
When you look at the principles of revolutionary democracy that the EPRDF is being led by, it protects the rights of groups, not the right of individuals. It protects groups that are gathered under the umbrella of EPRDF and it does not ensure the rights of people across the nation. To make sure that individual rights are respected, AEUO follows a liberal democracy doctrine. But this doesn’t mean that group rights are ignored.
Capital: Which do you prioritize, agriculture or industry?
We cannot separate them; we give equal weight for both sectors of the economy. The industry sector needs a well developed and strong agricultural base because the inputs for the industry come from agricultural products and agricultural sector absorbs the outputs of the industry. What we have to do is modernize both sectors to achieve good results.
Capital: What would your land policy look like?
No doubt, we are following a land policy that would allow private ownership, which gives citizens the right to sell and exchange their own land. We have seen that during the EPRDF years, the government is the sole owner of land. That policy made people lose the confidence to invest because they know that one day the government will snatch their land away.
We would not create those kinds of uncertainties because we want the country to have citizens that have confidence in their own property.  We are not against allocating land to investors. But, we have to treat Ethiopian investors differently than foreign ones. 
Foreign investors can lease land from the government but Ethiopian investors will have the right to own the land they want to invest on. We will not make Ethiopian investors and foreign investors to compete on equal grounds like the EPRDF is currently doing.
Capital: How would the business community benefit from AEUO’s policy?
Business communities are one of the foremost groups that will benefit from our policy. We firmly believe that the business community has been suffering from different impositions such as the banking system, the bureaucracy, and the taxing system that does not create a conducive climate for businesses to thrive. Corruption is a serious problem with tax related cases and around investment ventures. 
This has challenged the community from working and prospering. Business owners are forced to be members of the EPRDF to benefits. We do not want to allow such kind of filth to flourish. Party membership should be based on willingness, not fear. And AEUO will work to solve these problems.
Capital: What is your plan with regards to job creation?
Before I answer this question, let’s look at the education sector in the country; a key sector that plays a very crucial role in job creation. EPRDF says there are 35 universities but they are more of nominal values than real values. Because to open one university, you must have a collection of professors, lecturers with the ranks of PhD and Masters’ degree. Most of the universities in Ethiopia undermine this requisite and every year, they graduate less competent students that have no confidence and ability to turn their knowledge into a job opportunity; to create jobs for themselves.
AEUO will change this condition if it comes to power. Though we appreciate the role of small and medium enterprises in this regard, we will not bind them with the party like EPRDF is doing. We really want them for the good work they do to help themselves and their country.
Capital: There was a power scramble within AEUO. What impact did that situation bear on the preparation for the election?
We are doing our best to win the election without the ‘nuisance group.’ For the record, there was not a power struggle within the party like it was rumored. It was an argument about whether or not we should drive out some of our cadres that planned to dismantle AEUO or not. Finally, the NEBE ordered that group to leave the party.
Capital: Why does AEUO prefer to run in the election on its own instead of forming a collation with another party? Some scholars suggest that it is better to contest under the umbrella of one big opposition party?
We believe that forming a big party would be the best way, but, the NEBE doesn’t want that.  For example, AEUO and UDJ signed an agreement back in 2014 to merge but it couldn’t  be realized.
AEUO understands that forming one big party cannot be achieved due to problems with opposition parties’ themselves as well as the interference from the government.
Capital: What is AEUO’s foreign policy?
We will build a peaceful relationship with the Eritrean people; the peace that was disrupted by the ruling parties of the two governments. We will also work out a deal with Eritrea with regards to the utilization of the Assab port; currently the port is not used by either countries, it is just idle. We would have good relationship with any country that respects mutual benefit and international law.
In final words, I would like to call up on the professors, doctors, engineers and other Ethiopian scholars to be more concerned for Ethiopia, to fight for democracy and to put the people before personal interest.